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Theater of the Real

An overview of the resources available for researchers in the field of Documentary Theatre.

Primary Sources Definition

What are Primary Sources? 

Primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to the truth of what actually happened during an historical event or time period. "Primary source" is a term used in a number of disciplines to describe source material that is closest to the person, information, period, or idea being studied.  A primary source (also called "original source") is:

  • a document,
  • recording,
  • artifact,
  • or other source of information that was created at the time under study, usually by a source with direct personal knowledge of the events being described.

It serves as an original source of information about the topic. Similar definitions are used in library science, and other areas of scholarship. In journalism, a primary source can be a person with direct knowledge of a situation, or a document created by such a person. Primary sources are distinguished from secondary sources which cite, comment on, or build upon primary sources, though the distinction is not a sharp one.


Newspaper Research

An advertisement about run away slave Shadrach in the Virginia Gazette of 1771.

Shadrach Minkins for sale in newspaper notice,1851.

Historical Databases

An advert for P.T. Barnum's "Feejee Mermaid" in 1842 shows 3 mermaids swimming in front a boat.

An advert for P.T. Barnum's "Feejee Mermaid" in 1842 or thereabout.

International Collections

Letters & Diaries and Oral Histories

Historical Image Collections

 The American actress Charlotte Cushman announced in William Shakespeare's Hamlet in an issue of Washington Theater..

The American actress Charlotte Cushman advertised in William Shakespeare's Hamlet at the Washington Theater in 1861. 

The Billy Rose Theatre Collection

Paul Robeson as Othello and Uta Hagen as Desdemona.

Scene from Othello with Paul Robeson and Uta Hagen as Desdemona.